Most mornings, when I get up–today at 4 am– my typical activities are not shy about urging themselves on my attention: dishes, making and having my first cup of coffee, meditating, journaling, working on whatever pieces of writing I’ve started or want to start. These activities usually feel like opportunities, not obligations, and I am grateful that I am still able to do them, since many people I have known no longer can.
But this morning I felt different. I felt “at loose ends”. That was the phrase that came to mind and it fit how I felt: unfocused, a bit cloudy, with a nagging sense that it didn’t really matter what I did. All the activities, which usually call out to me like old friends, seemed “same old, same old”.
Perhaps if I had just picked up a book or opened a journal or, after stacking the dishes in soapy water, I had actually washed them and put them away, there would have been no wondering about “loose ends”. But since I did start wondering, it seems natural to ask: what does it even mean to be “at loose ends”? Why is it “ends” that are loose, and not screws or connectors joining one thing to another? And, if it is actually ‘ends’ that get loose, which ones are they?
What does it feel like when those ends are not loose? I hope not that we would then be “tied up in knots”. When we say that we just have a few “loose ends to tie up” –perhaps an end-of-year report before we leave work for Christmas vacation—is the danger we fear that, while we are gone, everything will unravel?
When I was an adolescent still living at home, my mother once baked a tray of cookies to give to a neighbor who had agreed to water her plants while we were on vacation. The rest of the family was ready to leave, the car was packed, when she started mixing the cookie dough. I wonder if Mom also had difficulty letting those loose ends dangle in the wind. I know that I need more practice letting those ends just be there, like prayer flags waving in the wind.
It’s not as if I want to leave everything in a mess or neglect important matters. It’s that I don’t want to relinquish having a say in what comes next and in the content of the thoughts that drive me forward. When it is my time to leave this Earth for good, I don’t want to be lamenting that I needed more time to do the things that didn’t find their way into the queue of my daily activities.
Such considerations don’t only arise in final moments. Every morning, it is the flying moment–not a compulsion to get all my “ducks in a row”—that knows what is really worth doing, and that knows who I want to be “when I grow up”.
But, “the meter is running” on this taxi ride through time and space; and it’s not just familiar phrases that keep showing up in my mind like Lego pieces, some of which don’t quite fit together and some of which fit together so well that everything I build tends to look like a Lego castle. There’s something else behind those pieces of thought and language, which are always the first to leap to mind like seals jumping through hoops at the zoo. I don’t just repeat phrases; I repeat thoughts and patterns of perception and recognition, when what I would really love is to slip away from the campfire—from the home base of the already done and the already thought—and allow starlight and wind, winding through the tree branches, to peer into my heart.